Who’s going to be Toronto’s first zero-waste grocer?

Montreal just got a new one and Vancouver has two in the works, but there's nowhere in Toronto to buy prepared foods, cleaners and body care products in deposit-return glass jars sans the disposable packaging



If Toronto needed another reason to envy Montreal beyond chewy bagels and cheap rent, here’s another: that city has just scored its second zero-waste grocery store. 

At Épicerie LOCO and now Méga Vrac (aka Mega Bulk), you won’t find plastic baggy stations to load up on bulk grains and nuts. If you want to shop, you’ll have to bring your own food containers, put down a deposit on returnable Mason jars or, if you really came unprepared, use compostable paper bags. (They don’t leave newbies totally high and dry).

And you won’t be limited to the usual dry goods that dominate traditional bulk stores. They sell fresh produce, prepared foods, cleaners and body care products in bulk, sans disposable packaging, too. LOCO, which opened in August, is all organic and even sells locally made toothpaste in deposit-return glass jars. 

A third zero-waste grocer is poised to open in Montreal any day now, but the disposables-free grocery revolution isn’t just happening in Quebec. The first low-impact 100 per cent zero waste grocery store in Canada opened on British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island in June. 

At Green, even the eggs come in reusable baskets, and if customers forget to bring their own containers from home they can buy Green Mason jars, cloth bulk sacks and mesh produce bags. Plus, all the produce is no-spray and mostly locally grown. 

Green, too, has 100 per cent recycled paper bags hidden away in case of emergencies. Scarborough-raised co-owner Crystal Lehky laughs, “They’re for when we see people really struggling.”

Plus, any paper packaging found in store can be returned and composted at Green’s in-house worm farm. That compost is donated to the local produce farmers they support in-store. That’s as closed-loop as it gets. 

Another major bonus: prices at Green are on a par with run-of-the-mill stores. Lehky says she wants to make sure going zero-waste is affordable. Green is planning its own bricks-and-mortar location in Vancouver in 2017, following pop-up grocer Zero Waste Market. 

But as the zero-waste grocery movement grows, Toronto’s Bulk Barn still won’t let you refill your own jars or containers. They’ll make you line them with plastic bags first – seriously. Toronto shelved its plastic bag ban in 2012.

Thankfully, we’ve got a healthy handful of conscientious bulk grocers like Strictly Bulk that are happy to let you refill your own containers. Strictly Bulk tells me that maybe 10 per cent of their customers already do. But they all still have plastic bags on hand for everyone else.

If you do bring your own containers, you’ll have to wait in line to have them weighed by a clerk before you shop. No big deal, really, but it’s not as efficient as the system at LOCO and Green, where weigh-your-own-container stations speed things up.

As someone who’s found herself stuck more than once without refillable sacks or containers in a bulk aisle, I’ll sheepishly vouch for the fact that until stores tell us disposables ain’t an option and offer up alternative systems, single-use bulk bags just won’t die.     

Update 09/22/2016: Bulk Barn’s new Toronto location in Liberty Village will be the first test location for their new reusable container initiatives. We’ll keep you updated with how it goes.

ecoholic@nowtoronto.com | @ecoholicnation

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